The hammer of thor, p.21
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       The Hammer of Thor, p.21

         Part #2 of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan

  I’m not sure where she found the courage to speak. Maybe it was her head injury talking. Me, I was trying to decide if Jack had the power to kill a giant this big. Even if Jack managed to fly up the giant’s nose, I doubted his blade would do much more than cause a sneeze. And we didn’t want that.

  The giant straightened and laughed. I wondered if his ears popped when he got that high in the stratosphere. “Hoo-hoo! The green-haired gnat is feisty! My name is Tiny!”

  Now that I looked, I could see the name TINY embroidered on his bowling shirt like the distant letters of the Hollywood sign.

  “Tiny,” I said.

  I didn’t think he could possibly hear me any more than I could hear ants having an argument, but he grinned and nodded. “Yes, puny one. The other giants like to tease me, because, compared to most at Utgard-Loki’s palace, I am small.”

  Blitzen dusted twigs from his blue jacket. “It’s got to be an illusion,” he muttered to us. “He can’t really be that big.”

  Alex touched her bloody forehead. “This isn’t an illusion. That shoelace felt plenty real.”

  The giant stretched. “Well, it’s a good thing you woke me from my nap. I suppose I should get going!”

  “Hold on,” I yelled. “You said you were from Utgard-Loki’s palace?”

  “Hmm? Oh, yes. Utgard Lanes! Would you be heading that way?”

  “Uh, yeah!” I said. “We need to see the king!”

  I was hoping Tiny might scoop us up and give us a ride. That seemed like the proper thing to do for travelers who’d just had a hit-and-run with your shoestring.

  Tiny chuckled. “I don’t know how you’d fare at Utgard Lanes. We’re a little busy getting ready for the bowling tournament tomorrow. If you can’t even navigate around our shoestrings, you might get accidentally crushed.”

  “We’ll do fine!” Alex said—again, with a lot more confidence than I could’ve mustered. “Where is the palace?”

  “Just over yonder.” Tiny waved to his left, causing a new low-pressure front. “Easy two-minute walk.”

  I tried to translate that from Giantese. I figured that meant the palace was about seven billion miles away.

  “You couldn’t give us a lift, maybe?” I tried not to sound too pitiful.

  “Well, now,” Tiny said, “I don’t really owe you any favors, do I? You’d have to make it over the threshold of the fortress to claim guest privileges. Then we’ll have to treat you right.”

  “Here we go,” Blitzen grumbled.

  I remembered how guest rights worked from our last time in Jotunheim. If you made it inside the house and claimed you were a guest, supposedly the host couldn’t kill you. Of course, when we’d tried that before, we ended up slaughtering an entire giant family after they attempted to squash us like bugs, but it had all been done with the utmost courtesy.

  “Besides,” Tiny continued, “if you can’t make it to Utgard Lanes yourself, you really shouldn’t be there! Most giants are not as easygoing as I am. You need to be careful, little ones. My larger kin might take you for trespassers or termites or something! Really, I would stay away.”

  I had a terrible vision of Sam and Hearthstone flying into the bowling alley and getting caught in the world’s largest bug zapper.

  “We have to get there!” I shouted. “We’re meeting two friends.”

  “Hmm.” Tiny raised his forearm, revealing a Mount Rushmore–size tattoo of Elvis Presley. The giant scratched his beard, and a single white whisker twirled down like an Apache helicopter and crashed nearby, sending up a mushroom cloud of snow. “Tell you what, then. You carry my bowling bag. That way everyone will know you’re a friend. Do me this small service, and I’ll vouch for you with Utgard-Loki. Try to keep up! But if you do fall behind, make sure you reach the castle by tomorrow morning. That’s when the tournament begins!”

  He got to his feet and turned to leave. I had time to admire his scraggly gray man bun and read the giant yellow words embroidered across the back of his shirt: TINY’S TURKEY BOWLERS. I wondered if that was the name of his team or maybe his business. I pictured turkeys the size of cathedrals, and I knew they would be haunting my nightmares forever.

  Then, in two steps, Tiny disappeared over the horizon.

  I looked at my friends. “What did we just get ourselves into?”

  “Well, good news,” Blitzen said. “I found the bag. Bad news…I found the bag.”

  He pointed to a nearby mountain: a sheer dark cliff that rose five hundred feet to a wide plateau at the summit. But of course it wasn’t a mountain. It was a brown leather bowling bag.

  Solving Problems with Extreme Fashion

  AT THIS POINT, most people would have thrown themselves down on the ground and given up hope. And by most people, I mean me.

  I sat in the snow and stared up at the towering cliffs of Mount Bowling Bag. TINY’S TURKEY BOWLERS was etched across the brown leather in black letters so faded they looked like random fault lines.

  “There’s no way,” I said.

  Alex’s forehead had stopped bleeding, but the skin around the cut had turned as green as her hair, which wasn’t a good sign. “I hate to agree with you, Maggie, but yeah. It’s impossible.”

  “Please don’t call me Maggie,” I said. “Even Beantown is better than that.”

  Alex looked like she was mentally filing away that information for later use. “What do you want to bet there’s a bowling ball in that bag? Probably weighs as much as an aircraft carrier.”

  “Does it matter?” I asked. “Even empty, the bag is too big to move.”

  Only Blitzen didn’t look defeated. He paced around the foot of the bag, running his fingers across the leather, muttering to himself as if running calculations.

  “It has to be an illusion,” he said. “No bowling bag could be this big. No giant is that big.”

  “They are called giants,” I noted. “Maybe if we had Hearthstone here he could do some rune magic, but—”

  “Kid, work with me,” Blitz said. “I’m trying to problem-solve. This is a fashion accessory. It’s a bag. This is my specialty.”

  I wanted to argue that bowling bags were about as far from fashion as Boston was from China. I didn’t see how one dwarf, no matter how talented, could solve this mountain of a problem with a few clever style choices. But I didn’t want to seem negative.

  “What are you thinking?” I asked.

  “Well, we can’t dispel the illusion outright,” Blitz murmured. “We have to work with what we have, not against it. I wonder…”

  He put his ear to the leather as if listening. Then he began to grin.

  “Uh, Blitz?” I said. “You make me nervous when you smile like that.”

  “This bag was never finished. It has no name.”

  “A name,” Alex said. “Like Hi, Bag. My name is Alex. What’s yours?”

  Blitzen nodded. “Exactly. Dwarves always name their creations. No item is fully crafted until it has a name.”

  “Yeah, but, Blitz,” I said, “this is a giant’s bag. Not a dwarf’s bag.”

  “Ah, but it could be. Don’t you see? I could finish crafting it.”

  Alex and I both stared at him.

  He sighed. “Look, while I was hanging out with Hearthstone in the safe house, I got bored. I started thinking up new projects. One of them…well, you know Hearthstone’s personal rune, right? Perthro?”

  “The empty cup,” I said. “Yeah, I remember.”

  “The what?” Alex asked.

  I drew the rune sign in the dirt:

  “It means a cup waiting to be filled,” I said. “Or a person who’s been hollowed out, waiting for something to make his life meaningful.”

  Alex frowned. “Gods, that is depressing.”

  “The point is,” Blitz said, “I’ve been considering a perthro bag—a bag that can never be filled. The bag would always feel empty and light. Most importantly, it would be any size you wanted.”

  I looked at Mount Bowling Bag. Its side
rose so high that birds wheeled against it in dismay. Or maybe they were just admiring its fine craftsmanship.

  “Blitz,” I said, “I like your optimism. But I have to point out that this bag is roughly the size of Nantucket.”

  “Yes, yes. It’s not ideal. I was hoping to make a prototype first. But if I can finish the bowling bag by naming it, stitching a little stylish embroidery into the leather, and giving it a command word, I might be able to channel its magic.” He patted his pockets until he found his sewing kit. “Hmm, I’ll need better tools.”

  “Yeah,” Alex said. “That leather is probably five feet thick.”

  “Ah,” Blitz said, “but we have the best sewing needle in the world!”

  “Jack,” I guessed.

  Blitz’s eyes sparkled. I hadn’t seen him this excited since he created the chain mail cummerbund.

  “I’ll also require some magic ingredients,” he said. “You guys will have to pitch in. I’ll need to weave thread from special filaments—something with power, resilience, and magical growth properties. For instance, the hair of a son of Frey!”

  I felt like he’d smacked me in the face with a shoestring. “Say what now?”

  Alex laughed. “I love this plan. His hair needs a good cut. Like, what is this, 1993?”

  “Hold up now,” I protested.

  “Also…” Blitz scrutinized Alex. “The bag needs to change sizes, which means I’ll need to dye the thread with the blood of a shape-shifter.”

  Alex’s smile melted. “How much blood are we talking about?”

  “Just a little.”

  She hesitated, maybe wondering if she should bust out her garrote and substitute the blood of a dwarf and an einherji.

  Finally, she sighed and rolled up her flannel sleeve. “All right, dwarf. Let’s make a magic bowling bag.”

  Meat S’mores Roasting on an Open Fire

  NOTHING BEATS camping out in a dreary Jotunheim forest while your friend stitches runes on a giant bowling bag!

  “All day?” Alex complained when Blitz estimated his time until completion. Granted, she was a little grumpy after being smacked down by a giant shoelace, getting cut with a knife, and having her blood drained into a thermos cap. “We’re on the clock here, dwarf!”

  “I know that.” Blitz spoke calmly, like he was addressing a Nidavellir kindergarten class. “I also know that we’re completely exposed here in the middle of giant territory and Sam and Hearth are missing, which is killing me. But our best chance of finding them and getting the information we need is by reaching Utgard-Loki’s palace. The best way to do that without dying is to enchant this bag. So, unless you know a faster way, yes, it will take me all day. I may have to work through the night as well.”

  Alex scowled, but arguing with Blitzen’s logic was as pointless as arguing with his fashion sense. “What are we supposed do, then?”

  “Bring me meals and water,” Blitz said. “Keep watch, especially at night, so I don’t get eaten by trolls. Cross your fingers that Sam and Hearth show up in the meantime. And Magnus, let me borrow your sword.”

  I summoned Jack, who was happy to help.

  “Oh, sewing?” His blade runes glowed with excitement. “This reminds me of the Great Icelandic Sew-Off of 886 C.E.! Frey and I destroyed the competition. A lot of warriors went home weeping, we shamed their stitching and darning skills so bad.”

  I decided not to ask. The less I knew about my father’s sewing victories, the better.

  While Jack and Blitz talked strategy, Alex and I made camp. She’d brought supplies, too, so in no time we had set up a nice level spot with a couple of pup tents and a stone-ringed fire pit.

  “You must have camped a lot,” I noted.

  She shrugged, arranging twigs for kindling. “I love the outdoors. Me and some kids at my pottery studio in Brookline Village, we used to go up to the mountains just to get away.”

  She packed a lot of emotion in those last two words: get away.

  “A pottery studio?” I asked.

  She scowled as if trying to detect sarcasm. Maybe she’d fielded dumb questions from people, like: Oh, you make pottery? How cute! I used to like Play-Doh when I was young!

  “The studio was the only consistent place for me,” she said. “They let me crash there when things were bad at home.”

  From her pack, she dug out a box of wooden matches. Her fingers seemed to fumble when she took a few sticks from the box. The cut on her forehead had turned a darker shade of green, but she still refused to let me heal it.

  “The thing about clay,” she said, “it can turn into any shape. I get to decide what’s best for each piece. I just sort of…listen to what the clay wants. I know that sounds stupid.”

  “You’re saying this to a guy with a talking sword.”

  She snorted. “I suppose, but…” The matches fell out of her hand. She sat down hard, her face suddenly chalky.

  “Whoa.” I scooted over to her. “You’re going to have to let me heal that head wound. Gods only know what kind of bacteria was on Tiny’s shoestring, and you donating blood to Blitz’s arts and crafts project didn’t help.”

  “No, I don’t want—” She faltered. “There’s a first aid kit in my bag. I’ll just—”

  “A first aid kit isn’t going to do it. What were you about to say?”

  Alex touched her forehead and winced. “Nothing.”

  “You said ‘I don’t want—’”

  “This!” she snapped. “You nosing around in my business! Samirah told me that when you heal people—like the elf, Hearthstone—you get inside their heads, you see stuff. I don’t want that!”

  I looked away, my hands turning numb. In the fire pit, Alex’s kindling pyramid fell apart. Her matches had scattered in a rune-like pattern, but if it meant anything, I couldn’t read it.

  I thought about something Halfborn Gunderson had once told me about wolf packs: each wolf pushes the limits within its pack. They are constantly testing where they stand in the hierarchy—where they can sleep, how much they can eat of a fresh kill. They continue to push until the alpha wolf snaps at them and reminds them of their place. I hadn’t realized I was pushing, but I’d just gotten a first-rate alpha-snapping.

  “I…don’t really control what happens when I heal.” I was surprised that my voice still worked. “With Hearth, I had to use a lot of power. He was almost dead. I don’t think I could read much from you while just fixing an infected cut. I’ll try not to, anyway. But if you don’t get some healing…”

  She stared at the bandage on the spot where Blitzen had taken blood from her arm.

  “Yeah. Yeah, okay. Just…forehead only. Nothing inside the head.”

  I touched her brow. She was burning up with fever. I summoned the power of Frey, and Alex let out a gasp. Instantly, her wound closed. Her skin cooled. Her color returned to normal.

  My hands were hardly glowing at all. Something about being out in the wilderness, surrounded by nature, seemed to make the healing easier.

  “I didn’t learn a thing,” I promised Alex. “You are still a mystery wrapped in a question mark wrapped in flannel.”

  She exhaled, making a sound between a laugh and a sigh of relief. “Thanks, Magnus. Now maybe we can actually get this fire started?”

  She didn’t call me Maggie or Beantown. I chose to take that as a peace offering.

  Once we had a good blaze going, we tried to figure out the best way to repurpose Fadlan’s Falafel over an open flame. We learned an important lesson: one cannot make s’mores out of lamb meat and chickpea patties. Mostly we ate the chocolate from Uncle Randolph’s house.

  Blitz took the better part of the morning spinning his magic thread on his collapsible travel spindle. (Of course he had one of those in his kit bag. Why wouldn’t he?) Meanwhile, Jack flew up and down the side of the bowling bag, perforating the pattern Blitz wanted him to sew.

  Alex and I kept watch, but nothing much happened. Sam and Hearthstone didn’t appear. No giants eclips
ed the sun or destroyed the forest with their untied shoelaces. The most dangerous thing we spotted was a red squirrel in a branch above our campfire. It probably wasn’t a threat, but since meeting Ratatosk I took no chances. I kept an eye on it until it leaped to another tree.

  In the afternoon, things got more exciting. After we fed Blitz some lunch, he and Jack got to work on the actual stitching. Somehow—uh, perhaps with magic?—Blitz had made a whole pile of shimmering red yarn from my hair, Alex Fierro’s blood, and threads from his own vest. Blitz tied one end of it to Jack’s pommel, and Jack flew back and forth across the side of the bag, diving in and out of the leather like a dolphin, leaving a shimmering trail of stitches. Watching him reminded me of how we’d tied up Fenris Wolf…which was a memory I didn’t really care to have.

  Blitzen called out directions. “Your left, Jack! Drop that stitch! Okay, give me a backstitch! Bunny-punch me a hole on the end there!”

  Alex nibbled her chocolate bar. “Bunny-punch?”

  “I have no idea,” I admitted.

  Maybe inspired by the sewing display, Alex unthreaded her garrote from her belt loops. She ran the metal wire across the soles of her boots, scraping off icy mud.

  “Why that weapon?” I asked. “Or you can just tell me to shut up again.”

  Alex gave me a sideways smile. “You’re fine. It started out as my clay-cutter.”

  “Clay-cutter. Like the wire you run through a slab of clay.”

  “You figured that out all on your own?”

  “Ha, ha. I’m guessing most clay-cutters don’t have combat applications?”

  “Not so much. My m—” She hesitated. “Loki visited me one day at the studio. He was trying to impress me, show me how much he could do for me. He taught me an enchantment I could use to make a magical weapon. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of helping me. So I tried his spell on the stupidest, most innocuous thing I could think of. I didn’t figure a wire with dowel handles could ever be a weapon.”

  “And yet…”

  Alex pointed to a nearby boulder—a rough chunk of granite about the size of a piano. She lashed out with her garrote, holding one end like a whip. The wire lengthened as it flew. The far end wrapped around the boulder and held fast. Alex yanked it toward her. The top half of the boulder slid off the bottom half with a grinding sound like a lid being removed from a porcelain cookie jar.

  The wire flew back to Alex’s hand.

  “Pretty good.” I tried not to let my eyes pop out of their sockets. “But does it make french fries?”

  Alex muttered something about stupid boys, which I’m sure had nothing to do with me.

  The afternoon light faded quickly. Over at the bowling bag, Blitz and Jack kept working on their entry in the Great Jotunheim Sew-Off. The shadows got longer. The temperature plunged. I noticed this because Blitz had recently given me a drastic haircut and my exposed neck was cold. I was just grateful there were no mirrors around to show me the horrors Blitz had worked upon my head.

  Alex threw another tree branch into the fire. “You might as well ask.”

  I stirred. “Sorry?”

  “You want to ask me about Loki,” Alex prompted. “Why I put his symbol on my pottery, why I have a tattoo. You want to know if I’m working for him.”

  Those questions had been lurking in the back of my mind, but I didn’t understand how Alex could know that. I wondered if my healing touch had backfired somehow. Maybe I’d given Alex a look inside my head.

  “I guess it worries me,” I admitted. “You act as if you don’t like Loki—”

  “I don’t.”

  “Then why his symbol?”

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